Gird your loins – we’re going to be navigating positions battles in each division. Today I’m talking about the NL Central, which loses the Astros this year, so you can basically knock off five wins from each team’s 2012 win total. It feels like this could be a close race for the first couple months until the Reds replace Dusty’s toothpick with bubblegum at the trade deadline. There’s also a good amount of both young and rebound pitchers spread out across the division, so this could be a boon for late round draft picks in mixed leagues. Am I telling you to draft a pitching staff solely from the NL Central? Those are your words, not mine. Although I kind of wish they had been my words (you quick thinker, you). You can also read about the position battles for the NL East and the AL Central. Anyway, here are some of the position battles to watch in the NL Central:
- Closer: Carlos Marmol is the undisputed closer for now. I want to emphasize “for now” because I don’t see Marmol remaining on the Cubs much longer. When he gets traded, Kyuji Fujikawa should take over and could be a solid closer this season, based on his dominant performance across the other pond.
- Third Baseman: Ian Stewart vs. Luis Valbuena. This is an awkward situation because the Cubs wanted to give Stewart the job. Then he got injured. Now, they still want to give him the job – no offense, Luis (which is the problem). Valbuena is a defense-first player who would only be relevant in NL-only leagues. Stewart has power potential, but his persistent injuries are likely to give Valbuena a good amount of at bats.
- Aroldis Chapman: He is at the center of the battle for closer and fifth starter. He is unquestionably better than the other candidate in each battle (Jonathan Broxton for closer, Mike Leake for fifth starter), so this will sort out depending where the team chooses to slot him. Crazy ol’ Dusty wants to keep him as closer, while everybody else in the world wants to give him a shot as the fifth starter. I’m guessing that he makes the rotation, but I worry that Dusty will make him throw 300 innings out of spite.
- First Baseman: From what I can tell, the Brewers don’t really have many position battles, if any. Corey Hart, whom I covered earlier, will come back in May. Mat Gamel finally had a shot to tear it up, but then he did just that to his knee and will be out for the season. The club has said Alex Gonzalez should start the year at 1st.
- Fifth Starter: Kyle McPherson and Jeff Locke are fighting for the rotation spot that Francisco Liriano vacated until May, when he recovers from his broken humerus (not funny!). I’m guessing that McPherson wins the job and he should be a solid option in NL-only leagues. Once Liriano returns, he should continue to be the consistently inconsistent player that we’ve grown to expect.
- Fifth Starter: Trevor Rosenthal is now out of the picture and will be housed in the bullpen. The remaining candidates are Joe Kelly (who has experience) and Shelby Miller (who has potential). I’m thinking that Kelly gets the job initially and Miller gets the call in a couple months, but I could see the Cardinals going with Miller out of the gate too. When he gets to the majors, Miller has the potential to be immediately relevant in mixed leagues.
- Second Baseman: Matt Carpenter appears to somehow be the front-runner. Maybe the Cardinals are going to follow in the footsteps of the Tigers and punt defense? Anyway, this really helps fantasy baseball owners, as Carpenter should be a solid middle infielder. Meanwhile, Daniel Descalso has seen his stock fall from potential second baseman to likely utility fielder. Kolten Wong is the heir apparent, but will simmer in the minors for a couple months or until September, depending on Carpenter’s performance.
- Shortstop: Rafael Furcal was the shortstop but, on cue, he got injured. Now there’s going to be a battle between Ronny Cedeno and Pete Kozma. Should you care? Probably not. Kozma was fantastic at the end of last year, but it looked very fluky. I’m guessing they go with Kozma initially, but this could constantly change throughout the season, depending on who has been hitting lately.